Friday, April 30, 2010
Gothic fiction's characteristics include the use of the supernatural, ghosts, hauntings, madness, and death. The play Macbeth contains all of these elements. Although witches are not new characters in literature during Shakespeare's time, they are key to the plot of the play. Their prophecies lead to Macbeth taking murderous actions leading to his and Lady Macbeth's descent into madness. These elements begin to come into play right after the murder of Duncan. Macbeth tells his wife "Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more,/ Macbeth does murder sleep" (2.2, 34-35). In addition to hearing voices in this scene, Macbeth and his wife also hear mysterious "knocking within"(2.2, stage directions). This scene seems to have found its way into every horror movie. The effects of the voices and knocking remains the same across eras; this builds suspense, a must in all horror movies. This scene with the knocking and voices also remind me of Poe's The Raven where the protangonist hears knocking or tapping on his door and does not know what it is right away. Did Poe get this idea from this scene in Shakespeare? We will never know, but it does show Shakespeare probably could of wrote horror or gothic fiction in addition to the genres he worked in.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's decent into madness of course continues as the play unfolds. It reaches its climax for Macbeth when he sees Banquo's ghost at the dinner party they are hosting in 3.4. In the scene, Macbeth is extemely freightened and talks outloud to the ghost, leaving all the guests in shock. Lady Macbeth reaches the climax of her madness when she begins to sleepwalk and talk. Obviously all these fit into the gothic/horror genre. The play's ending also conforms to this genre ending in suicide and murder. Of course Shakespeare is known for having his tragedies end with everyone killing each other and commiting suicide.
I would like to see a horror movie version of Macbeth to come out. The movie would cut out many of the minor characters and would have less emphasis on the country's differences and heir to the throne plot. The emphasis would be on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's descent to madness. The trailor voice over may sound like: "Macbeth's ambition got him to the throne, but he had to murder the current king to get there. Realizing his best friend Banquo was a threat to his crown, Macbeth also had him murdered. Now being haunted by Banquo's ghost and fighting off madness, Macbeth attempts to fight fate and hold onto his crown." Obviously I'm not a writer but I think the movie could do well at the box office if it contained big names and promoed correctly. I would go see it.
Note: I consulted Wikepedia to refresh myself on gothic literature and Poe.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
In King Lear, Edmund states, “The wheel has come full circle” (5.3.173). In this line, he is referring to himself, and his own rise and fall of power. During the beginning of the play, Edmund refers to himself as a “Bastard.” Here, he is illustrating himself as a character that is at the bottom of the wheel of fortune. Throughout the play, Edmund gains confidence and rises to the top of the wheel with his power gain. Towards the conclusion of King Lear, we see Edmund’s downward spiral back to the bottom of the wheel of fortune. If one believes in the legend that the Goddess Fortuna controls the wheel, then one might see Edmund’s circular journey of the wheel as being controlled by Fortuna herself. In a sense, he has lost all control in his life, and his life was in the hands of a greater being then himself.
This leads us to the question of fate. Does fate exist? Are we powerless to our own fate? Despite drive and the way we live our lives, will we inevitably succumb to fate itself? Then this leads us to further questions like: Even is possible, should we overcome fate? Or is fate what is meant to happen? All of these questions are essential to ask when considering King Lear, the wheel of fortune, and fate.
I think we can all deal with the “villains” of the play being killed, but why does Shakespeare choose to kill off Cordelia, or the heartbroken and insane Lear? The main plot of the story, the struggle between Lear and his daughters, as well as the subsequent battle for control of his kingdom, ends on a rather confusing note. The King is dead, as are the complete trio of his daughters, and not just the wicked ones who we’ve been waiting to see die for five acts, but the honest, pure Cordelia as well. The future is unclear; Albany, Edgar and Kent are understood to be taking over the government, but it’s difficult to put much thought into the future of the kingdom when the reader is still recovering from the sudden murder party that just took place.
Shakespeare’s choices in the final act of the play may seem random or unnecessary at first, but it is easy to see how the tragic end fits in with the common themes throughout the play of hopelessness and false justice. In King Lear, there is no good versus evil, at least not one in which there is a clear, triumphant winner, a champion who rides home to the parade and fanfare fit for the victor. Gloucester cries out in 4.1.37-38 “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for sport.” A dark thought to consider, but the death and bloodshed that consumes the play can’t be chalked up to much more than chaos. Characters betray each other, only to be betrayed by others. Goneril and Regan give false affection to their father so as to usurp command of his empire only to end up killing each other over a common lover. The final battle scene leaves the vast majority of important characters in the plot dead and the kingdom in shambles.
Does Shakespeare implement justice into King Lear? Or is the lack of justice the very point of the tragedy? Shakespeare seems to be implying that not everything happens so as to fit into a grand battle of light and dark, good and evil, but rather sometimes things happen for no reason but the jealousy and greed inherent in people. It could be said that justice killed the two wicked sisters, but what of King Lear or Gloucester, both of whom sought to repent for their way, only finding truth in their failures (Lear in his madness comes to face what he has done to Cordelia, whereas Gloucester only comes to regret his treatment of Edgar after being led blind by his illegitimate son), and what of Cordelia, who had done wrong to nobody?
To me, this is the most tragic of Shakespeare’s plays simply for the fact that there is no true moral here, no governing theory to the madness that overtakes Lear’s empire. There is no God in King Lear to seek guidance from, or to fight in the name of. There are only foolish, jealous people, and Shakespeare shows us the terrors that fools can lead us to.
Monday, April 26, 2010
The death that really struck a heavy blow for me was that of Cordelia. She was the purity of the play, the redeeming angel come back to rescue her father from the villainy of her two sisters, redeeming her own bloodline in the process. Moreover, she was the Queen of France, a woman of power independent of her father's. Her death truly shocked me--she seemed too strong to be laid up and cut off like a sacrificial lamb. Yes, her faith and purity fit the part, but she had a strength of character that didn't lend itself to that sort of sacrificial image--the pure virgin, the vision of innocent charity--when she had a kingdom, a husband, and a power all her own. And she does not even get to die swiftly: there's a whole segment of that final scene in which the King, now going mad, swings back and forth between wailing that she's dead, and frantically discovering that she yet lives, if only someone could heal her. At the end of the play, I wasn't even 100% sure she was dead--was Lear imagining the signs of life, or the signs of death? Either seemed entirely possible. But they both fade away, leaving us with Kent and Edgar, and so I was forced to conclude that she was, either from the beginning or just now, deceased.
Still, that ending scene gives me pause, and makes me wonder what her true significance in the play was. Has her death truly redeemed anything? Is there enough even left of the kingdom or bloodline to be redeemed in the first place? Or is it simply meant to strike you as senseless, a last stab of Edmund's at a world that he sees as always out to get him? Is it only to lend to the tragic sense of the final act, or is there more to it than that? I don't believe I'll be getting answers to these questions, at least, anytime soon.
At the end of Act Four, when Cordelia returns to the forefront with her easy forgiveness of her father’s banishment, I honestly thought she might survive to the end despite my knowledge of many of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I couldn’t think of a reason why she would need to die, or how her death would somehow rebalance the outcome; and this being my first exposure to Lear, I thought my prediction was decently sound. Shakespeare even makes an effort to reaffirm Cordelia’s legitimacy by contrasting her treatment of her delirious father with how Regan and Goneril had previously addressed him: “Will’t please your highness to walk?” With just a simple phrase, she shows her father the respect her siblings have been denying him all along, and she does this regardless of how her father completely disregarded her. As a character, she is entirely grounded, and despite her ordeal, her priorities remain intact.
Even the way in which Cordelia is killed seems senseless to me. Following the scene in Act Three, one would think that Shakespeare would have little issue in staging another death, instead, Cordelia’s death occurs completely off-screen, as Edmund had ordered her hanged and his messenger was unable to stop the execution in time. By killing off such an inherently innocent character, I would think Shakespeare would want her death to be dramatic and obvious. Thankfully, we are at least given the moment where Lear walks on stage with his daughter in his arms, completely heartbroken and desperate for a glass to see if she breathes. I think the moment that was by far the most frustrating to me occurs right before Lear’s not-so-shocking death, in which he thinks that his daughter might still be alive: “Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips, look there, look there!” For a moment, I thought she would breathe and survive, but she doesn’t, and I’m left feeling that her death was completely in vain.
The first words we hear out of Edmund’s mouth is, Thou, nature, art my goddess. To thy law
“My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why “bastard”? Wherefore “base”?” (1.2.1-5)
Edmund feels as though he should receive the same, if not more than his brother, because they are only a few months different in age. Although his jealousy makes sense, it is no reason to not only go against his family, but have them basically killed. Although he is a bastard child, he thinks he deserves the same as his brother. Because of Edmund’s fake letter, Gloucester banishes his son Edgar from the land because Edmund sets up a scene where Gloucester thinks that Edgar has been dishonest. Later, Edmund sets up Gloucester as well, and gets him banished. Basically Edmund goes against his entire family, all for power and land. So, finally, Edmund has full control of Gloucester’s heir and land.
As a subplot, I found this story to be really interesting. So much deceit and dishonesty existed. I found the end of the play to be extraordinary. To me it shows that Karma is true. After all of the hurt that Edmund created, finally the power is put into Edgar’s hands and Edmund dies. But what I found interesting was Edmund’s final attempt to redeem all the bad he has caused. He heard that his father had died and he is in the position to be killed by his brother, he tries to stop Cordelia and Lear from being killed. Before the power shifted, Edmund was going to kill them, but now he feels remorse and sorrow and tries to stop it. But in my opinion it is too little too late. He already has caused so much trouble, making anything right at this point is just to help himself rest in peace, which I think he does not deserve. Edmund deserves all the anguish he feels because he caused so much pain himself. In Edmund’s own words, “the wheel has come full circle.” He caused pain, and now he receives pain. He wanted the power to be taken from Edgar, when now it is being taken from him. He suffers because of the actions he took.
When reading the final few acts of “King Lear” what really struck me was the soap-opera-like love triangle of Edmund, Goneril and Regan. This triangle was so interesting and intriguing for many reasons and drove a lot of the action in the final moments of this play. Initially, I began by questioning Edmund’s intentions or motives for involving himself with these two women. There is the obvious reason, that he is simply a “womanizer,” but I really began to see him more as an opportunist/ business man. In order to further his career (to become King) he had to be romantically involved with either Goneril or Regan. Instead of just picking one of the women, Edmund, the smart man that he is, chose to involve himself with both. I think that this was a smart move on Edmund’s part because it pretty much guaranteed him a decent shot at becoming King.
The way that Edmund was able to manipulate and effectively make these two sisters fall in love with him was astonishing to me. For example in 5:1 when Edmund and Regan are talking, I had a really difficult time coming to any strict conclusion about which sister he preferred more, if any was the case. Also interesting was that Edmund does not explicitly deny that he slept with Goneril, when Regan asks him, yet Regan is still completely infatuated with him. I think Edmund’s ability to talk in a way in which he shows no preference to either sister speaks to his greater ability to manipulate pretty much EVERYONE that surrounds him. Edmund may not be the King of England, but I sure would consider him the King of manipulation. He is able to succeed in turning two sisters against one another and ultimately leads these two sisters to a tragic end.
The literal death of this love triangle occurs in the final act of the play. I think that the fact that Goneril killed herself but only after poisoning Regan truly shows the immense power that Edmund wielded over these two. I think Goneril killed Regan out of an act of extreme love for Edmund because she wanted to insure that Regan could never be with Edmund if she herself couldn’t be with him. Edmund even addresses this in 5.3:238-240 when he says “Yet Edmund was beloved. / The one the other poisoned for my sake, / And after slew herself.” This line is very interesting because Edmund puts the emphasis on “for my sake,” it shows that he himself really understood the power the he had over these two women.
The final display of Edmund’s power over these two women really left me thinking about what if everything Edmund wanted played out according to plan? What if Edmund became King? What would have happened to these two sisters? Although it’s quite an intriguing scenario I really don’t have a definitive answer. Part of me thinks it would have ended the same way that “King Lear” ended to begin with; with everyone dying. I think that because it was such a tangled web that Edmund weaved the only way that any of these characters would be able to escape was through death.
I was also shocked that Cordelia was hanged; I had assumed that if one person were surely going to make it through the play, it would be Cordelia, because she was clearly one of the better characters of the play. When the deaths of Regan and Goneril were announced, however, I was neither shocked or upset and felt that they got what they deserved.
One of the things that bothered me during Act five was how quickly the battle was presented in 5.2. Obviously, Shakespeare didn’t want to spend much time on this and wanted to get to the end of the play, which is fine, but I felt it was almost comical how quickly it was portrayed. The directions have Edgar run off stage and then almost immediately run back on. I think a small aside from Gloucester would have worked well here and wouldn’t have made the battle seem so rushed.
Finally, I was also slightly confused as to who became the King at the end of the play. We never see anyone crowned and, unless I missed it, no one said that they would become King. All we know for sure is that Kent declines the position. Are we to assume that because Edgar doesn’t decline it, he has accepted the position? Personally, I’m a little surprised that Shakespeare didn’t include a crowning ceremony at the end of this play as he has done at the end of others, but I suppose that would’ve taken away from the tragic ending of the play.
What I love about the ending of Lear is what happens between Lear and Cordelia. Lear at this point is completely bonkers, but he is still able to recognize Cordelia for who she is: the pure, noble daughter. Or, does he? If the tearing of the clothes and the flower crown are any indication, Lear has just given up on sanity. Broken and destitute, he accepts the help from Cordelia and rests at France's camp. Is it just because she's a nice lady and looks like Cordelia? I think the text indicates that he does recognize her (stating "I think this lady to be my child Cordelia") but he still has issue with her ("I know you do not love me"). So, the first meeting indicates that Lear recognizes Cordelia, but his insanity keeps him from forgiving.
Jump to the end of the play: Lear and Cordelia are captured, prompting Lear to wish nothing more than to be with his daughter and "kneel down, and ask of thee [Cordelia] forgiveness." It seems that the insanity of war snaps Lear out of it, if only temporarily. After Cordelia is killed, Lear only sees the possibility of her still being alive. Kent tries to reveal himself to Lear, but Lear's babbling prompts Albany to state "He knows not what he says: and vain it is that we present us to him." I think that line is the key to the entire play. From the very beginning, it was completely vain to speak up to Lear, reason with Lear, bring Lear to different places, get Lear to recognize someone, and really get Lear to do anything. He threw his "love" around like he was throwing M&Ms, causing both Kent (or Caius) and Cordelia (in the final act) quite a bit of trouble. Cordelia, especially, is a good example of this insanity: after everything that happened in the play and Lear's unwillingness to forgive, all of a sudden, he loves Cordelia again. It's not because of everything Goneril and Regan did, it's because he thinks he recognizes her in his insane cloud. Only after Cordelia dies does Lear feel true sadness, and even then he is completely bat crazy.
I want to believe Lear knows as soon as he wakes up that Cordelia is there for him and loves him deeply. But, there is so much build up in the heath that I have to see the dramatic reunion as dramatic for Cordelia, and confusing for Lear. Death reveals all, and for Lear, Cordelia had to die so he could realize her purity. I suppose that's tragedy for ya.
I feel that obviously, Cordelia was the only truthful one in this situation, and King Lear just overlooked it as an insult. I feel that that was incredibly stupid. I also feel that the idea of language and love, and nothing are very apparent within this play. To King Lear, obviously, love has to do with language and making sure the more you talk and boast, the more love you have for something/someone. Whereas in Cordelia's case, she spoke of nothing and had the most love for her father and he believed that it wasn't enough and took it as an insult that she couldn't speak of all the ways she loved him as a father. Cordelia spoke of nothing and he thought that that meant she didn't love him at all. I feel that was selfish and blind by King Lear.
Another thought I had about this play was the mention of Scene 3, Act 4. Where King Lear wants to be a beggar like Tom the poor man. "Worm no silk, beast no hide, sheep no wool, cat no perfume". Where he begins to strip down his clothes, I feel that it was a way of him gaining his independence. King Lear, at this moment, doesn't want to have to rely on animal-made products. I feel that he is stating a point here, that he wants to be freed of the things that he relies on to make him who he is. I feel that this was a very important part in the play.
In Act 1 Scene 2, Edmund says "Wherefore should I / Stand in the plague of customs and permit / The curiosity of nations to deprive me / For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines / Lag of a brother?"(1.2.2-6). Edmund wants something physical, like land ("Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land"(1.2.17)). I think he also wants recognition. He does not want to be seen as the bastard or lowlife son of Gloucester. He wants to be seen as the legitimate one. He wants to be recognized as that. Edmund wants what has been denied to him all his life. I know he goes on to attempt to get what he wants, but I feel like he just goes right back to bastard status.
In Act 5 Scene 3, when Albany hears that Edmund has died, he simply says "That's a trifle here"(5.3.309). Compared to everything else that's going on, Edmund's death is nothing important. It made me wonder, if he was not a bastard, would they have cared a little bit more? Or is it just because to many other characters have died / are dying? They've simply thrown Edmund to the side. I doubt he would have been very happy with that if he had been alive. He probably would have said the same things that he said in the beginning of the play about wanting recognition and wanting to be above his legitimate brother. He gets no recognition as he dies which is why I feel like he's gone back to where he started.
Friday, April 23, 2010
I never would of thought that these two daughters would fight over a man like they did in the final scene of the play. I find act five, scene three to be the most puzzling. When they begin to argue about who gave Edmund his military power, and bicker back and forth, I found myself asking “are these two serious?” Edmund, the man they are fighting over, has just sent their father and sister off to be killed in prison and all they can think about is who they will be romantically involved with next? I just don’t understand what these two characters are thinking, and their attitudes about their father make my stomach turn. This may be because I have such a strong connection with my family, and no matter what they have done, I would never turn my backs on them.
I may be stewing over something very small, but I just feel like these daughters are portrayed to be evil, unlike their sister, Cordelia who appears to be more of a saint figure. Cordelia is the only one willing to take care of her father, as a child should do. Since women are often marginalized in Shakespeare’s plays, I guess it would be to much to have three women characters who are angels, but I believe that Goneril and Regan were by far the cruelest characters in the play. Even their deaths at were for an unjust reason. They died fighting over a man would wanted to do nothing but kill their father and sister and that is something that I can just not fathom.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Allow me to preface this reading with two thumbs up for Albany, who defies his "monster" of a mistress though she bests him as a soldier (4.5.5). He is the only character who has changed allegiances thus far, the only one who as opted for action over passivity. If Goneril and Regan are "unnatural" for all but disowning their feminine sides--that is, their innate desire to nurture and keep the peace--then Albany is "natural" for performing the more masculine function of maintaining order by at least giving Goneril a piece of his mind and refusing to fight her battle against Lear and his French allies. I hope he doesn't die in Act V.
"O Goneril!...I fear your disposition," Albany cries upon accosting his wife (4.2.30-2). "Disposition" here is a particularly apt pun, denoting mood, physical condition, and displacement, according to the OED. This one statement, therefore, foreshadows Goneril's fall from power (which we sense is inevitable; she is a villain after all) and the deterioration of her physical self (her "body," or following of soldiers). A little close reading, and we know she's going to get creamed by the French.
That nature, which contemns it origin,
Cannot be bordered certain in itself.
She that herself will sliver and disbranch
From her material sap, perforce must wither
And come to deadly use. (4.2.33-7)
The imagery here speaks to Goneril's unnaturalness as a creature that bites the hand that feeds it. Sap here, to continue to the extended tree metaphor, symbolizes blood; and material sap may be considered flesh. Disbranching, then, is dismemberment. This alludes to the gouging of Gloucester's eyes (which Goneril, admittedly, has nothing to do with) and to the dismissal of King Lear from his status as king and father. He who bestowed upon Goneril her royal blood, her life, and her legacy is cast off, but not without repercussions.
Albany continues by calling Goneril and her sister "Tigers" (41)--predatory, carnivorous--then "barbarous," "degenerate," and "vile." Perhaps this is Shakespeare demonstrating through his word choice that self-predation, a tendency to attack oneself via one's kin, is what separates man from beast or at least that which is humane from that which is barbaric. To show his humanity, Albany resists the urge to dismember her ("dislocate and tear/ They flesh and bones" (66-7)) because she is a woman in form and must therefore harbor some of that womanly essence he has been taught to respect. I think Shakespeare realizes that his female villains are all the more provoking for being so far from what we expect a woman to be by her nature.
Edgar and Gloucester's relationship, as well as with Edmund and Gloucester, seem to prove the nurture argument. It is not because Edmund is the bastard child, but because of the way that his father treats him. Did anyone get a reminder of the Royal Tenenbaums? "These are my sons, Chas and Richie, and this is my adopted daughter Margo." Legitimacy and rank does not determine character in nature, but the treatment of an individual based on rank creates character. The characters of Lear's daughters are also determined by the treatment from their father- Cordelia is doted on, and thus becomes true and sweet, yet aware of her father's unfair treatment of her sisters.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
One similarity between Richard II, Henry V, and King Lear is that they each blur the lines between the classes. In Richard II the usurped King laments the fact that he has been deposed and in King Lear the banished king begins to recognize the validity of the lower classes’ experiences, as can be seen when he says “Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart that’s sorry yet for thee,” at 3.2.70. Each of these leaders have lost the power they once had and are betrayed by those who had once been their subjects, their subordinates. In doing so they become enlightened, in a sense, because their range of experience is made larger. With Henry V, however, there is no actual change in his knowledge because he has already been associating with the lower classes. When he rallies his followers together by calling them a “band of brothers” and elevates the peasants rankings by telling them all those who fight with him will be nobles, it does not cause a crisis in his identity as it does with Richard (“And now know not what to call myself”) and Lear (“Yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself). Richard and Lear’s experience of downward social mobility destroys them: neither knows how to operate unless they are king. Henry’s experimentation with it empowers him: he is the one who initiates the upward “advancement” of others (while Richard and Lear fall) and his blurring of class distinctions allows him more power while simultaneously exempting him from the consequences of having that power (“no more is the King guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for which they are now visited” at 4.1.162.)
The character I find most interesting in Lear is Edmund: he drives forward the entire subplot of the play through his sheer force of will, which is in contrast to Lear, who sets the events in the plot in motion, but subsequently loses all control, very unlike Edmund; his psychology seems to be a mixture of feeling inferior because he is an illegitimate child whose father has no legal obligations to him and feeling superior to all those around him because he is smarter than they are (he keeps on making fun of his father’s superstitions) and can easily manipulate them; he’s an excellent example of performativity (like Hal) in that he performs his roles of “good son” and “good brother” well; and he is very rational and practical, traits that seem to be missing from all the other characters in the play (save maybe Goneril.) What interests me most, though, is how he resembles Shakespeare’s other ‘characters of manipulation,’ the Duke in MfM and Hal in Henry IV. All three of them have a lack of power (the Duke can’t really run his dukedom efficiently and Hal is thought to be foolish) and sacrifice others (Edgar, Angelo, Hotspur &Falstaff) in order to gain in. I’m not sure how an actor would play him: I watched the Ian McKellan version of the play and was surprised at how the actor playing him delivered his speech at 1.2. In my mind he was brooding and vengeful, but the actor made him flippant, arrogant, and even playful. I’m not sure which one seems more honest to the overall tone of the play.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Her reasons for not at least attempting to give a speech are hard to fathom, but I believe it comes down to this: Cordelia is the youngest child, and her two older sisters have overbearing personalities and, evidently, a gift with words. Also it is revealed soon after her rejection of his game that Cordelia is the king's favorite child, and the one he most wished to spoil with wealth and love.
Cordelia was probably used to being her father's favorite, but in this case felt from the first that she had been placed in a contest she couldn't win with the given rules. So, whether out of simple honesty, a desire to bend the rules and win in an unexpected way, or just a youngest child's spite at what seems an unfair situation, she refuses to play Lear's game. She might be condemned by audience members for her seeming petulance, and all the problems it causes, but quite apart from the necessity of setting the play in motion, she would really not be the same character if she had reacted in any other way.
For a monarch to say he wishes to give up his property and royal responsibility in his first speech without just cause (he appears to be healthy at this point) is way beyond unusual- It’s plain stupid. Kent in lines 144-153 of the first scene urges him to reconsider. Even after saying that he is only trying to look out for the king’s best interests a few lines later, all he gets for his pains is banishment. In the last scene of this act, the fool has much to say to Lear ranging from the semi vague “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise” (1.5.37) to the fairly blunt
Fool: ...I can tell why a snail has a house
Fool: Why, to put his head in; not to give it away to his daughter and leave his horns without a case. (1.5.23-26)
When introduced to Lear’s game of expressing love, his oldest daughters tell him in flowery speeches how much they care about him. What does Cordelia say? “Nothing, my lord” (1.1.86). I do tip my hat off to her for refusing to flatter her father for a few reasons. First, she later defends her lack of verbal affection with the claim that she has proven her love in actions, something Kent later supports. Second, she really had no other choices. Obviously she is too honest to say anything to please Lear unlike her sisters. This left her at a huge disadvantage in the game. If her father went as far as staking his future on the outcome of a session of “who loves daddy more?”, he’s too far gone to listen to reason at this point, a device Cordelia was probably hoping would work.
Edmund piques his father’s interest in “nothing” in two ways at once. Initially when Gloucester asks about the letter he is holding, he responds with “Nothing, my lord” (1.2.31). In a sense, he’s right. He forged that letter so, at the moment, it truly is nothing of any importance. Once his father actually reads what it says, “nothing” turns into something troubling: Conspiracy. By vaguely answering his father’s questions in a way that seems to defend his step brother, he again succeeds to turn another nothing into something: Himself. Because Edmund was born to someone other than Lady Gloucester, he is automatically illegitimate in the eyes of the law. He receives no land or much respect socially if any due to this birth status. Therefor, for all intents and purposes, he is nothing at the beginning of the play. Once he plants the suggestion that Edgar, the legitimate son, is double crossing Gloucester, Edmund is beginning to become something in the eyes of his father and, if his plans go right, society by evidence of inheriting the land.
There are many points at which the fool reminds him of the immature decisions he has made, and at many points implies that Lear himself is a fool and then riddles his way around it. Even the fact that Lear needs to constantly be entertained by the fool just makes him even more childish. Though I know it is just part of the time for the king to have a fool, it seems like he is more present in this particular play. Even in the beginning, Kent is practically begging him to forgive Cordelia and realize that she loves him most and he doesn't want to hear anything of the sort.
At the end of the act, Goneril also treats him like a child in regards to his one hundred knights. It reminded me of a parent talking to a kid with too many toys who is constantly begging for more even though they don't play with the ones they already have. I have never seen this play performed, but in the text it almost seems like it's an immediate switch from content to infuriated in Lear. Moreover, Lear needs a time out for all his temper tantrums.
When I revisited this thought of “the two bodies of the king,” I couldn’t help but think how it reminded me of the idea of celebrity and the lifestyle of two bodies. Like Lear, on one hand a celebrity has the materialistic “physical” side, a side caught up in fame, money, and temporary things—the shell of a person. On the other hand, is the divine side—celebrities are human as well, and their souls are perpetual. With this in mind, like Lear, the divine side is often overlooked both by celebrities and by common people.
Fortuna's wheel has a large role in King Lear. It is frequently mentioned in reference to the falling and rising of characters. After his quarrel with Oswald, Kent speaks a line before falling asleep. He says, "Fortune, good night; smile once more; turn thy wheel" (2.2.165). Shortly after, when speaking to the fool, Kent is advised to "Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break thy neck with following it; but when the great one that goesup the hill, let him draw thee after" (2.4.66-9). Here the fool, archetypal in his role, speaks wisdom under the guise of entertainment and insanity. Lear, having given up his throne before his death, has lost the voice of power and command. It is recognized in the beginning when Oswald refers to him as "my lady's father" (1.4.68) instead of King.
Kent's banishment and return in disguise is warranted as foolish, even to the fool. We shall see what trouble arises from this connection as the play progresses.
On another note, I absolutely loved the fool's speech in 3.2 where he prophesizes the ruin of England.
When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailor's tutors;
No heretics burn but wenches' suitors;
When every case in law is right...
He proposes that society not only craves chaos, but thrives on it both socially and economically. Not much has changed...must be human nature.
In ACT II we witness Edmund pretend to help Edgar, while he is really just putting on a show to convince his father that Edgar is a traitor. Like Iago, Edmund is able to use one situation in order to be in the good graces of more then one person at a time. While pretending to help Edgar escape from Cornwall, Edmund was able to stage a scene that made it seem to his father that Edgar had tried to kill Edmund. This way Edgar thinks that his brother is helping him, while thier father is turned against Edgar. I'm interested to see where Edmund's schemes and plots are going to lead him. Will he be more successful then Iago who in the end met his demise or will he meet the same end? Being as Iago is my favorite Shakespeare villain I'm interested to see if Edmund takes Iago's spot as number one.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Goneril and Regan are more than willing to say whatever their father wants to hear, but when it comes down to it, they don’t love or respect him very much at all. They take away his knights and unite against him to keep him out of their homes. They seem to be strongly bonded in their foulness, but Edmund quickly comes between them. Their fight for Edmund’s attention becomes so intense that Goneril actually kills her sister and herself. These women share the same blood and they are so quick to turn on each other, it’s appalling.
The way each sister interacts with her respective husband is insightful, too. Goneril and Albany fight in practically every scene they’re in together. Albany is sympathetic to Goneril’s father and Gloucester and when he tries to talk to his cold wife, they argue. Regan’s marriage seems to be on stronger ground, as she and her husband, Cornwall, are not only cruel but actually blind Gloucester together, cheering each other on as they go, but right after he dies, she goes running after Edmund. Cordelia, who is the kindest of the three sisters, marries the King of France, who respects her virtue from the beginning, and has the most honest of all the relationships.
I have to wonder about the way the women are woven into the last act of the play. Goneril kills her sister and then, for fear of facing Albany, kills herself. Cordelia gets killed because of Edmund’s lie, and Lear finally dies grieving for Cordelia. What message was Shakespeare sending to the audience and people reading the play? The women are strong, yes, but they are terrible people (Cordelia, although “good” never actually defends her father or stands up for what she deserves) with tragic fates. And what would Queen Elizabeth have said about the entire thing?
What is most intriguing about this play, is the fact that the daughters of Lear have so much power. He makes an agreement with them that they can have his land if they tell him how much they love him. The second part of the contract was that the daughters must take care of him and his knights while he stays with them. Lear gives up his property and shortly after both daughters are rude and start arguments with their father. The reader gets the feeling that the daughters are already plotting against their father. Which is strange because they already have the land and are married, so why be mean to their father? How does being mean to him benefit them? Lear's daughters completely strip him of his land, his dignity and even his title. In later parts of the play we find out that the daughters do not even want to deal with their father and tell him that if he wants to stay with them he must limit or completely get ride of his knights. To top it all off, as it was mentioned in class, the play does not even give Lear the title of King Lear for his parts.
What surprises me the most is that Lear kept his end of the deal yet his daughters did not. We know from the reading that Lear has faithful followers and over one hundred knights. Why doesn't Lear take back his land? Why does Lear let his daughters walk all over him? Would Lear be able to take his land back? I do not remember reading that Lear and his daughters signed a written contract about the land. This also raises questions. Would he really just stop being King because he divided the land verbally? Doesn't not being king anymore have a ceremony like in Richard II? Would Shakespeare's audience believe any of this is realistic, especially since a group of women have complete control over the play at this point? I can't wait to see if any of these questions are answered in the next couple of acts!
In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, the reader finds themselves discovering the deceit and cruelty which sons and daughters can force onto their fathers. Most of the play is focused on who is telling the truth, who really loves the other, and plotting behind each other’s backs. Surprisingly this does not just happen to one character or set of characters, but across the board and involves every character in the play.
First and foremost, there is the interaction between King Lear and his three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. The first two proclaim their love for their father by playing toward his prideful side and describing how wonderful he is. When it is Cordelia’s turn, Lear expects even better praise from her because she is his favorite, but she refuses to play his game and is disowned while her two sisters divide all the money and property between them with the clause that they must house their Father and his knights for a month, alternating between them both.
Meanwhile, there is also the feud of the illegitimate son Edmund and the legitimate son Edgar. So far, Edgar has not really done anything wrong except to be the rightful heir to his father’s, Gloucester’s, inheritance. Edmund is furious that because he is not legitimate, he cannot inherit. He decides to devise a plan that makes Edgar look like a murderer and villain so that their father chooses Edmund to inherit instead.
This play seems to ridicule the fake identities that most people show the world in order to gain something for themselves. Shakespeare seems to be saying that it is those that do not want to play that game, the ones that do not flatter, are really the ones that are most trustworthy. In both situations described above, those that benefit end up turning on the ones who gave it to them. Goneril and Regan first restrict their father, and then later want to kill him, while Edmund accuses Gloucester of helping the King escape (the first truth out of his mouth) in order to sentence his father to death and gain himself a title.
Even the servants get involved in this feud. Kent decides to take on a disguise after being banished in order to help his King, and Oswald stays true to his mistress Goneril. During an argument between these two in Act 2 Scene 2, Cornwall makes a very important speech which focuses in on the main point of the plot, “This is some fellow,/ Who, having been praised for bluntness, doth affect/ A saucy roughness and constrains the garb/ Quite from his nature. He cannot flatter, he,/ An honest mind and plain, he must speak truth!/ An they will take it, so; If not, he’s plain./ These kind of knaves I know, which in this plainness/ Harbor more craft and more corrupter ends/ Than twenty silly-ducking observant/ That stretch their duties nicely” (lines 89-98). Here, he is saying that because Kent is being so blunt and honest he must be telling lies.
Even though from the moment we can talk, we are taught to speak the truth and do good, here, those that speak the truth do not come out on top; those that lie, cheat, and steal come out the victor, the brave, and the wealthy.
(i don't know why whenever i drag the text from word it always messes up only parts of the font and spacing! grrr...)
By the next act after Edmund makes it look like he and Edgar were in an altercation, Gloucester now believes Edmund 100% and decides to let him inherit. He states "loyal and natural boy, I'll work the means/ To make thee capable" (2.1, 85-86). Of course this is a very ironic statement since Edmund is not being loyal and is not Gloucester's natural boy. Again I question how does Gloucester not realize what is going on or at least be suspicious of Edmund. Gloucester knows the laws of inheritance and obviously Edmund is not allowed to inherit. This should be raising a red flag for Gloucester that something is not right with this situation. At this point Gloucester is blinded by what is going on around him.
Shakespeare continues to use irony by having Gloucester's eyes being removed and have him literally blinded. It was Gloucester's metaphorical blindness that lead to him being set up as a traitor and having his eyes removed. The ironic aspect of the situation is Gloucester after he is blinded realizes what was going on and what happened. He states "O my follies! Then Edgar was abused" (3.7, 94). Not to sound unsympathetic, but it was Gloucester's own fault for becoming literally blind. As I mentioned a few times how could you not be suspicious of Edmund given the circumstances. I don't understand why he trusted his illegitimate son so much against Edgar. The only explanation I gave is purely speculative and I would like a better explanation for trusting Edmund. Or is this just part of the plot set-up that Shakespeare expects his viewers and readers to simply accept. I have a tough time simply accepting things without explanations. Typical Shakespeare!
Friday, April 16, 2010
Despite the problems I had with the play, I thought it was very interesting how Elain Finestein and the Women’s Theatre Group were able to create an extensive feminist play based off something written hundreds of years ago, and make it relevant in the modern world. Lear’s Daughters offered further hypothetical insight into characters that have been analyzed by Shakespearean scholars for centuries.
Having seen the play before reading King Lear, it was a little difficult to follow the plot, but now that we’re treating the original King Lear in class, things are starting to come together. It’s interesting to have the hypothetical background of Lear’s daughters in mind as we go through it; Cordelia’s actions make more sense with an actual sense of her relationship with her father as a child, and Goneril and Regan’s quickness to lie and cheat their father is given a possible explanation as well.
We see more competition between the sisters, and although the characterizations applied to them in Lear’s Daughters seems to be completely made up, it’s interesting to see them as more typified characters. Cordelia, for example, is shown to be a dancer, and Regan as a painter. It doesn’t add much to the plot, but it helps to visualize the characters as more than vengeful princesses.
One of the reasons Shakespeare is still read so much and analyzed by scholars throughout the world is because the characters are designed to have unexplored depth to them. The plays generally aren’t extensive enough to give a full background of the characters, aside from perhaps the tetralogy, so most of the analysis we make of the characters are from the limited material we are given, and lots of assumption; writing a prequel to a famous piece of literature would not work unless this were the case. The extensive exposition that they added to the characters certainly doesn’t rewrite King Lear, and it will obviously not be considered canonical with how radically different the play is performed when compared to Shakespeare’s typical work. However, the play gives some interesting insight into the characters, and some points to think about while reading the original King Lear.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Imagine this: An actress is lying on a movable stair platform. In front of her is another figure, that of a nurse. The nurse gives her something to drink, after which the lady on the stairs claims that she has been poisoned. The stage goes dark. You can see the actress on the stairs gripping onto the railing, and for the next couple minutes she just starts screaming her head off (meanwhile I'm in the audience trying my hardest not to "roflmao hahahaha" but in some respects I'm being unsuccessful and am snickering rudely while my friend is looking at me wondering what the hell is going on). The screaming intensifies (I'm losing it in the audience, I'm really losing it, but I try not to laugh audibly, but at this point I can feel tears start to come down my face I'm laughing so hard, my whole body shaking, but I remain silent, just barely). I'm thinking how ridiculous this is that they're staging an abortion on stage, and I'm horrified that I think they've insinuated that it's the incestuous child of Lear and his daughter. Finally the screaming stops. I dry my eyes. The nurse says, "It would have been a boy", and the whole feminist propaganda of the play becomes blatant. I want to walk out, but I need the extra credit so I stay. I can't decide what's worse, the smearing of Shakespeare, or the feminist propaganda. I'm left wanting a refund even though it was free. I'll never get that hour back.
I refuse to accept this play as Act 0 to Shakespeare. I think that's insulting to Shakespeare. I think Shakespeare would be offended that King Lear is portrayed as an incestuous pedophile, that one of the daughters has an abortion, and just generally with the entire production. I realize that I'm being a bit harsh, and that people worked very hard on this, but I did not find fault with the acting, the directing or any element that these people worked on. I find fault with the writing. There's just no dancing around that this play is a travesty because of its writing. I think the actors performed their parts well, and to the best of their abilities, but no amount of acting would save this play. The only thing that would make this play better would be if it were entirely different, and not about what it is about at all. That's my opinion, feel free to disagree.
Prince Hal really isn't different, despite his attempts to claim and behave otherwise. Certainly, there is a difference between Henry V and most kings, as his father inherited the thrown by force, and as a prince he chose to spend his days in the tavern with "the people"- if by "the people", he means thieves and lowlifes. I suppose that has served as an advantage to him. However, can you really compare him to those people? Sure, he took part in their doings, but even then it was part of a greater plan that involved his future leadership. He was never the same as they.
If anything, for all the complaints Henry IV makes in the last play about how his son is a disappointment to him, both Henry's are quite a bit alike. They are both charismatic and scheming. In Richard II, Bolingbrook seemed to have a similar style of politics by making himself appealing to the subjects. Yes, they executed this in different ways, Bolingbrook being more of the traditional baby kissing politician, and Hal being more blatantly scheming, spending time with the lowest of the low whom he probably knew he would be destroying later. Yes, I do think that the movie gives him a little too much credit. Reading the play, I really do have a hard time envisioning King Henry V crying because he's hanging someone he never respected in the first place (not to mention that that's not actually how hangings were done- - - but I digress).
So what is it that makes Henry V a more successful king than Henry IV? Is hanging out with drunken tavern thieves really enough to make you a good leader? Well, I don't know about that, but the fact that he would actually spend time with these people, as opposed to just smooth talking them, did give him the advantage of understanding their psyche. What do they want to hear? They want to hear that the king is no different than they are. Let's face it: that's just true in politics. How many times in presidential and congressional elections do you hear supporters of a candidate say "He's a regular guy, and not just another politician", when we all know damn well that that isn't true? Moreover, charisma that Bolingbrook had in Richard II didn't carry over to Henry IV. It seemed like something about him died after he "accidentally" had Richard II killed.
It seems to me that the reasons Henry V was a good leader are the same reasons I wouldn't want him to be my friend. Or, at the very least, I wouldn't want to go drinking with him.
That being said, it has been an interesting experience for me. It has been kind of fun to know what other people thought of the plays we've been reading, and has given me some ideas of my own which I would not have thought of otherwise. Having people write out their thoughts in this kind of situation, and making others respond to those thoughts, provides an extension of the in-class discussions which is not so constrained by time. So, while I have been having some trouble remembering to keep up with the assignment, when I DO remember it's quite interesting for me.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Here is a clip of the speech from1989 film edition of Henry V, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh:
Another clip of the speech from the 1944 film edition likewise directed by and starring Laurence Olivier (skip to approximately 87 minutes in):
The third clip comes from a British televised version of Henry V, directed in 1979 by David Giles and starring David Gwillim as the title character (skip to 102 minutes, 50 seconds in):
The most obvious similarities, I believe, lie between the Branagh and Olivier versions of the film. The two actors both star in and direct their films and the blocking, or movement, of Act IV Scene 3 in both versions is very similar. One obvious difference between the two is Branagh’s use of a score, composed by Patrick Doyle, throughout the speech while Olivier’s score cuts off just as Henry begins his speech. Although both deliveries are very rousing, I feel that the use of music adds a heightened sense of excitement to the speech. Similar to Olivier’s adaptation, Giles chooses not to use a score in his Henry V and, unlike both Olivier and Branagh’s versions, the soldiers of England make no celebration nor any kind of cheering after Gwillim finishes delivering the speech. Gwillim’s rendition of Henry V also differs from Branagh and Olivier, in that he delivers the speech in somewhat of a playful manner, while the other two actors tones remain serious throughout.
A vast difference occurs between the two film versions of Henry V in the message that the two stars/directors attempt to deliver. Released in 1944, during World War II, Olivier’s version puts an emphasis on patriotism and was meant to act as propaganda to boost the morale of British troops; it’s release coincided with D-Day, or the invasion of Normandy by the Ally forces. Branagh’s version, on the other hand, places more emphasis on the horrors of war. Although I could not find an on-line video version, I read about an interesting contemporary version of Henry V released by the Royal National Theatre in 2003 that portrays modern warfare and criticizes the war in Iraq.